I like Jonathan Leeman’s definition of church membership. It’s a bit clunky, but if we can unpack it I think it’s pretty helpful.
Church membership is a formal relationship between a church and a Christian characterized by the church’s affirmation and oversight of a Christian’s discipleship and the Christian’s submission to living out his or her discipleship in the care of the church.
A few things stand out to me.
First, it’s formal. Formalizing membership is simply saying out loud “I’m with you, and you’re with me.” We need not fear it as a slope that leads us into institutionalism. A formal recognition of a spiritual reality is helpful communication.
Second, it’s relational. Formal doesn’t negate relational. Church membership ought to be carried out in the context of loving relationship. It’s not about signing papers and taking classes. It’s about getting to know and care for one another.
Third, it clarifies. Membership declares the responsibility of the leadership to oversee and provide direction to the member. The leaders give oversight while the members proactively submit themselves to the church in their discipleship. For both, responsibilities are clarified.
And for these reasons (and many more unpacked in Jonathan’s book) I’d recommend that every Christian become a church member. It serves the leadership. It clarifies your role. It strengthens the relationship. It’s an altogether healthy move.
And if you’re looking for an introduction into the subject, read his book Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus, it’s only 132 pages.